Well, as I stated back in August in my post about the frustrations of looking after a sick child, it was only a matter of time before we ended up in hospital for something. This particular something was a very nasty chest infection of the kind that makes kids breathe as though they're running a marathon and wheeze like an accordion. Poor Duckling didn't really know what had hit him. He'd been ill with a cold, cough and temperature for a couple of weeks, but by the weekend before last, appeared to have made a full recovery. We breathed a sigh of relief, but barely 48 hours of optimal health had passed before another cold hit him and the cough returned. For a day or two it seemed mild, but then a temperature developed again and mild turned into really quite wheezy. We saw the GP who diagnosed bronchiolitis and prescribed an inhaler, and this seemed to help a bit for a day or so, but then quite wheezy turned into really struggling to breathe and after a trip to the out of hours clinic on Sunday, we were sent straight to hospital.
Making the transition into hospital is a comparatively easy affair, apart from the lucky dip involved in sending your husband back for your overnight things (I ended up with one pair of hiking socks and one pair of knee highs but otherwise he did surprisingly well). One word from a doctor and suddenly there isn't any doubt in your mind that hospital is where you have to be. Nothing but your child then matters - not work, not social engagements, not loads of washing, not appropriate underwear. It's quite an out of body experience. Life is lived from one round of observations to the next, and your emotions become inextricably linked to a set of numbers on a chart. On day one, things generally went like this each time a nurse came to do Duckling's "obs":
Respiratory rate: 68 breaths per minute (Oh God, that's not good)
Heart rate: 182 beats per minute (Waaay too fast)
Oxygen saturation levels: 85% (Bad, bad, bad. Can he get brain damage from that?!)
Temperature: 40.1 o C (Holy crap)
By day three, it was more:
Respiratory rate: 48 breaths per minute (Great!)
Heart rate: 154 beats per (Super!)
Oxygen saturation levels: 97% (Hooray!)
Temperature: 37.5 o C (Whoop! We can go home!)
Ours was a ward of wheezers (as one nurse put it). The three other kids in the beds around us all appeared to have very similar illnesses involving fevers, breathing problems and coughs. Their reactions to their illnesses were notably diverse however. Duckling essentially breastfed and slept, breastfed and slept, occasionally perking up enough (when on Calpol) to go for a short toddle, watch a Peppa Pig or have a grumble about the pulse oximeter on his toe. The boy next to Duckling was a month younger than him. His approach was to veer wildly between mania (shaking the bars of his cage cot like a gorilla, wailing, throwing his toys on the floor) and extreme lethargy (collapsing in a heap and sleeping for hours). The girl opposite, who was about four, silently sat in her hospital bed looking serene and pale, like a painting of some Victorian moppet with influenza. In contrast, the little two year old girl next to her slept, then thrashed about, then woke, then coughed, then cried loudly and pitifully on an hourly loop that continued the entire time we were in there. I didn't hear her speak once except to moan "mama" though her tears.
While the children's reactions to their maladies were mixed though, as mothers, our reactions were remarkably uniform. We soothed, we stroked, we cuddled, we reassured, and at some point we all curled up with our little ones on their / our beds to sleep or comfort (or in my case hold the oxygen mask over a fidgety Duckling's face for five hours). Admittedly we weren't in the intensive care unit, but I don't remember once feeling panicked or thinking "help, what should I do?" - I just knew, and everyone else seemed to as well, as though our most basic, innate mothering instincts had been turned up to the max to drown out all other concerns. I was worried about Duckling of course, but for someone who usually worries a lot, I was surprisingly sanguine. Somehow the prospect of him not recovering was just too terrible to contemplate, so I think I unconsciously pushed it out my mind so I could focus on the present.
Caring for a really sick child strips parenting back to its most basic elements; love and care. You don't intellectualise, you just act. Rules, routines, discipline, stimulating creativity, encouraging independence, ensuring healthy eating; the usual framework of parental objectives suddenly isn't required - all you need to do is comfort, listen, and make sure that doctors and nurses are doing the same.
Herein lies the main reason why, as much as I wanted to leave hospital, I've found it quite difficult since coming home to transition back to 'normal' parenting. It has to be done for the sanity of all concerned, but it involves really thinking about what you're doing. You have to say "No" and "Stop" and "That's enough Peppa" and "Why don't you eat some raisins instead?". You can't just run on adrenaline and instinct in the exhausting but simple world of newborn-style "on demand" feeding and cuddles. You have be a conscious parent again, with all special dispensations put away for another day, even though all you want to do is vegetate after your week of stress and sleeplessness and / or hug your little one every time they whimper whispering "thank goodness you're all right."
It doesn't help that Duckling is not impressed at all by the return to normality. He may have been ill, but I think he also rather enjoyed having Mummy with him 24/7, at his beck and call, boobs at the ready. By the end of our stay, he was also delighting in the massive playroom full of cars, planes, trains and a kick ass Wendy House complete with plastic peas in a microwave. When I asked him as we drove home if he liked hospital, he replied "Yeah! Yeah! Me go door door and woo woo Mummy. And bees!" (Yes, I liked going through the door into the Wendy House and playing with the trains Mummy. And the peas!). Home by comparison is boring, and Mummy's refusal to get her boobies out every 10 minutes is not met with good grace and acceptance. At all. I know he's still on antibiotics and probably not feeling 100%, but there's only so much I can take.
Then of course there's the perpetual worry that he's not really quite recovered - he's still coughing, so can I really be sure he's OK without all the measuring and beepy machines? And there's a concern that this could happen again. Hospital is no longer a place where other people go. It is now a known entity where we could very well end up again if Duckling succumbs to another post-cold bacterial infection, or it turns out he has some underlying asthma issues (I hope not, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised). I can't in all honesty describe him as a 'healthy child' who just 'fights things off' anymore, because he's not: we had to intervene in a fairly major way this time, and if we've had to do that once, it's more than possible we'll have to do it again. Part of me wants to wrap him up in cotton wool and never let him out the house again for fear he will get another sniffle, but that's no way to live, and it's not fair to anyone. So, come Tuesday, we'll be back at the childminder's and normality will properly resume. I know this winter is probably not going to be fun or easy illness-wise, but I suppose if I can recapture the art of living in the present that I seemed to uncharacteristically master so well in hospital, we'll get through it somehow. And even if we do end up back in hospital, at least Duckling will be pleased to see the plastic peas.